Since the days of Thomas Edison, power has been available to almost anyone at the flick of a switch. For over a century that was made possible by fossil fuels. But the rising threat of climate change has spurred the development of alternative energy sources that are both endlessly renewable and nonpolluting. Now, companies, cities, countries, and entire regions are rushing to embrace renewable energy, the fastest-growing global energy source.
Over 100 cities around the world now get more than 70 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.1 The ambition isn’t limited to cities: over 150 companies are committed to work toward using only renewable power.2 Intel is high on that list: Intel® technologies are making it possible to convert and manage renewable sources and find new ways to integrate them into the modern energy grid. Using secure, connected IoT solutions that employ Intel® technology, electric utilities, and cities are turning real-time data into clear visualizations.
Intel's commitment to renewable energy is also demonstrated through its pledge to triple its on-site renewable projects by 2020. The result will be over 100 installations in 12 states and countries, drawing on over a dozen different energy generation technologies, from wind to fuel cells.
Renewable Energy Sources
Intel’s holistic view of pushing energy technology forward starts with knowing where computing power and intelligence can be most effective. Intel® technologies in solar and wind power are already helping renewable energy providers raise output while bringing down costs.
The technology to capture and convert the sun’s inexhaustible energy into electricity seems to be in a constant state of innovation. Solar panels themselves are continually becoming more efficient. Whether it’s a rooftop “solar skin” that is barely visible or solar-powered pavement that generates clean energy and powers its own streetlights, breakthroughs in photovoltaics (PV) are announced on a regular basis.
The combination of Intel® Falcon™ 8+ Drone and software optimized by Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit makes the routine inspection of solar energy farms both easier and safer, and make real-time analysis of data collected more efficient. The solar carport at Intel’s Folsom campus can generate enough power at peak capacity to meet over half of the campus’s energy usage, the equivalent of powering almost 1,000 homes.
The booming wind power industry is seeing wind farms expand worldwide, both onshore and offshore. As the fastest growing alternative energy solution, and one that produces no pollution or emissions, wind power could one day supply a large part of the world’s electricity needs.
Wind farm operators use Intel® Falcon™ 8+ Drone to inspect wind turbine blades for damage, then run real-time data analytics and image processing using software optimized by Intel® Distribution of OpenVINO™ toolkit. Intel® technology is also being used to optimize the position of turbine guide-vanes as wind conditions change.
The power of moving water is the largest source of renewable energy in the world. The idea is simple: water stored in a reservoir flows through an intake in a dam, where it spins the turbine blades of a generator and produces electricity. If the topography is right, the system can also be used to store energy by pumping water to a higher reservoir where it can be released on demand to create electricity.
The heat lingering deep within the earth can be tapped to create electricity or to heat or cool buildings directly. In places like Iceland, the heat from the earth is near the surface, and geothermal hot water is used to melt icy sidewalks and to warm swimming pools. In other places, deep wells tap into underground reservoirs of steam and hot water, which in turn drive generator turbines.
Material from once-living organisms can have a second life as a power source through biofuel technology. Biomass feedstocks such as plants, lumber mill scraps, and municipal solid waste are dried, compressed, and burned to create heat, or converted directly into energy through gasification. Biomass is the only alternative energy technology that can be converted into liquid biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol.
Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, 25 times as strong a greenhouse gas as CO2.3 It also makes up roughly half of the gases produced by the decomposition of organic materials in landfills. Landfill gas generators take this steady flow of natural gas to produce clean energy through engines or turbines. As a bonus, they remove methane from the environment in the process.
Over 150 companies have also made a commitment to work toward the goal of using only renewable power. Intel® technologies are making it possible to convert and manage alternative energy sources and find new ways to integrate them into the modern energy grid.
Renewable Energy Storage
Solar and wind energy generation is inherently variable and intermittent, depending on changing weather conditions and time of day. Smart battery technology powered by Intel® architecture helps to ensure a steady power supply, storing excess power and releasing it when necessary.
Renewable Energy and the Power Grid
For a long time, the benefits of alternative energy were offset by the difficulty of integrating it into the grid, plus the fact that it couldn’t meet the cost and performance levels of conventional electricity sources. Now both solar and wind power have reached or exceeded parity in many places. The issue of variable supply is still a challenge, but the combination of economic and environmental benefits, plus continuously evolving technology, will make renewable energy a clear—and clean—solution.
A renewable energy grid is different from a traditional monolithic grid designed around large power stations. It’s modular, distributed, and driven by consumers who can generate electricity themselves. In this distributed energy model, customers can become producers by feeding excess electricity back into the grid—and in many states, receive credit on their electric bills.
Renewable Energy Solutions from Intel
Customers have the Internet of Things (IoT) to thank for recent strides in energy development. IoT needs integrated hardware and software to be successful. It also requires quick access to critical data, as well as secure data transfer through the cloud for further analysis. When this happens, IoT can offer more reliable, faster operations, and a better understanding of what customers need.
Intel® architecture-based IoT technology creates gateway controllers with advanced computing capacity, remote management options, and scalable performance. They’re sturdy enough to work in tough environments without sacrificing reliability. They can capture and transfer data on energy conversion, storage, and delivery so it can be analyzed in near-real time. Being able to predict energy usage patterns lets utilities maintain sufficient power supplies even during times of high fluctuation. This helps renewables operate at maximum capability, making them more competitive in the open market.
Real-time energy monitoring starts with controllers, which operate the disparate pieces of the smart grid from solar panels to batteries. Modern controllers have to be reliable and offer scalable performance and a range of communications options. They also need to be rugged, since they often have to operate consistently in harsh conditions like spinning wind turbines or scorching solar farms.
Intel® technology-based gateway controllers form a vital part of an extensive network of connected devices that make sure renewable energy from multiple sources is available where it’s needed most. Intel®-based Active Grid Management Architecture uses real-time monitoring and control hardware based on IoT technologies to improve situational awareness of grid performance. Utilities take advantage of IoT technologies to collect and analyze DER data from across the grid. The result is a more stable grid, lower operating costs, and utilities that can manage their energy capacity more effectively. Open AGM architecture is highly modular, scalable, and interoperable.
As an example, Axiomtek’s embedded gateway controllers, using software solutions–based Intel® architecture, helps utilities and energy companies collect, filter, and analyze data from the cloud to the edge, with the ultimate goal of optimizing smart grid manageability across both legacy and modern systems.
To accelerate the adoption of new technology, Intel is learning from customers and partnering with vendors to build a robust culture of ecosystem players. Intelligent systems and the powerful information they provide are a major step toward sustainability and energy independence. And as renewables become more cost-effective and reliable, they’ll be more available to communities, cities, and countries in the developing world.
For all of us, the more renewable energy is brought online now, the sunnier the future will be.